Government hangs flood victims out to dry

Two and a half years after their homes flooded, Yukon residents are still waiting to hear whether they'll get any financial support from the government.

Two and a half years after their homes flooded, Yukon residents are still waiting to hear whether they’ll get any financial support from the government.

Though Yukon Housing has not given them any information, government records obtained by the News suggest there was supposed to be a plan to help them – but it somehow never came to be.

After floods damaged several homes in and around Ross River and Rock Creek in the spring of 2013, Yukon Housing officials visited the properties and estimated the total damage at $900,000 or more. They recommended that the government provide assistance to some homeowners.

Briefing notes provided to then-housing minister Brad Cathers in fall 2013 confirm that “a flood program for the spring 2013 floods is being developed.”

But that program never materialized.

When the News first reported on this story in August 2015, Yukon Housing’s vice-president of operations, Matt King, said “a decision hasn’t been made that there will be no program,” even though nothing had been put in place to date. He promised the corporation would contact the affected homeowners “as soon as possible this fall.”

That has not happened either.

Yasmine and Doug Hannah and Murray Reid, who spoke to the News back in August, say they have not heard anything from Yukon Housing since then.

Reid’s Ross River home was destroyed during the 2013 flood, along with a rental cabin he owned on the same property. He believes he was hit especially hard because the dike alongside his property was lower than elsewhere. He claims he’d complained about that to the government for years before the flood, but it wasn’t fixed until afterward.

After the flood, Reid lived in a trailer on his property until this past fall, but he’s now applying for a social housing unit.

He said he’s currently recovering from a hip replacement, meaning he can’t work or move around much. His rental cabin was supposed to be his retirement plan, but that’s now gone and he’s living on social assistance.

Reid hoped he would qualify for a grant or an interest-free loan – something to help him relocate. He’s now in the process of selling his property for less than a quarter of what he paid for it.

Financial aid, he said, “would mean life again.”

“I’ve been two and a half years without a life at all. It’s been dragging on forever and I just don’t know why they don’t do something.”

The News recently obtained government correspondence about the 2013 floods through an access-to-information request, including internal recommendations for the government’s response. In June 2013, Yukon Housing’s Roger Hanberg and Louise Legault assessed the damaged properties in Rock Creek and Ross River. In an internal email dated Jul. 10, 2013, Hanberg recommended “a buyout and demolition” of Reid’s house and cabin.

He also recommended that Yukon Housing do “all possible” to help Doug and Yasmine Hannah move their home outside Faro to higher ground.

The Hannahs spent a week in tents when their home flooded in 2013. They want to rebuild on higher ground, and asked for a low-interest or interest-free loan to help them get started.

But despite Hanberg’s recommendations, they have heard nothing.

“I think that’s the worst part, is that they go through all this, and then they don’t even get in touch with you,” Doug Hannah said. “It’d be nice to just have some contact with them. It’s like they just forget about you and hope you go away.”

In the two years following the flood, Reid sent at least a dozen emails to Legault asking for information about a possible flood relief program.

“Anything yet? Getting cold in trailer,” he wrote in October 2013.

In February 2014: “You said the last few floods were settled in five months. We’re now at 10.”

In October 2014: “I really need to hear what’s going to happen and when… please let me know.”

And in April 2015: “Is there anything you can do. I am begging for my life.”

In each case, Legault told him she had no information for him.

Still, the 2013 briefing notes state clearly that “Yukon Housing Corporation, under advisement and collaboration with Protective Services, is working on a flood program for residents impacted by the spring 2013 floods.”

According to the notes, 19 damaged properties were registered after the floods, with damages assessed at about $900,000. Other flood applicants were expected to register “if a 2013 flood relief program is announced.”

Furthermore, in an internal email from August 2015, Yukon Housing spokesperson Doug Caldwell said he understood “that our Minister (Stacey) Hassard as MLA for the area (Ross River) indicated to one of the property owners that a program was indeed being developed for them.”

The News requested a comment from Hassard, who is now the minister for Yukon Housing. It went unanswered.

King, who previously promised the residents would be contacted in the fall, did provide a brief email statement. “We continue to work on this issue in an attempt to find resolution,” he wrote.

“I acknowledge that in this case it has taken longer than I said it would to contact homeowners with more information,” he continued. “We will contact homeowners once we have new information to share.”

He gave no explanation as to why the process has taken so long, or what the corporation is doing to “find resolution.”

There is, however, at least one piece of evidence that some action was taken in response to the 2013 floods. In the legislative assembly on Nov. 7, 2013, then-Community Services Minister Brad Cathers mentioned that his department’s fall supplementary budget included “$225,000 toward expenditures that deal with the spring and summer flooding in Rock Creek and Ross River.”

The Department of Community Services was unable to respond to a request for more information by press time.

The Yukon government doesn’t have an automatic flood relief program. Instead, every flood is dealt with on a case-by-case basis. But the government has offered assistance to homeowners in the past.

After record flooding in 2007, residents of Marsh Lake were offered grants and interest-free loans of up to $35,000. And Yukon Housing offered a $3.5-million assistance package to 13 homeowners in Upper Liard after flooding in 2012.

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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